ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The 10% Rule and the LoP

Can Conventions Circumvent Law?

The speaker has decided to follow conventions rather than jurisprudence in her decision not to accord the "leader of opposition" status to the leader of the Congress legislative party in the Lok Sabha. Conventions cannot supersede the law as various judgments point out. Comparisons to other legislatures elsewhere in the world also suggest the inapplicability of the 10% rule in appointing the LoP.

The results of the 16th Lok Sabha elections had brought up a legal conundrum apropos the office of the “leader of opposition” (LoP) in Parliament. The Congress Party, despite securing the second highest number of seats in the Lok Sabha (44 seats), has fallen short of what has been claimed as a minimum requirement of 10% of the overall seats in the Lower House, to get its parliamentary party leader to occupy the post of LoP. The office of the LoP is not a constitutional office in the sense that it has not been created by the Constitution and owes its existence to parliamentary convention which accords the leader of the largest opposition party to that post.1

On 19 August this year, the speaker of the current Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan affirmed that the appointment to the post of LoP had to fulfil the 10% rule. The speaker is right in noting the precedents of the 1980 and 1984 Lok Sabha, which did not have an LoP. The second largest party in 1980 was the Lok Dal (Janata Secular) and in 1984 it was the Telugu Desam Party, both of whom secured 41 and 30 seats, respectively. But the question remains if the precedents were simply based on convention rather than the law. Conventions are non-legal rules regulating the way in which legal rules shall be applied. In Supreme Court AoR Association,2 the Court explained that the scope of a convention (in context of the Constitution) was to fill up the gaps and to solve problems of interpretation since a great deal may be left unsaid. Therefore, conventions are to supplement legislation for convenience,3 and cannot supplant it, and holding the tradition of the 10% rule to be mandatory is tantamount to supplanting the express provision of having greatest numerical strength in Parliament in the law as we shall discuss later in the article.

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